As Tampa Bay Lightning fans, we’ve become used to a surprise player making the team out of training camp a year or so before we expect them to. Brayden Point comes to mind, as does Mathieu Joseph. For a short time this summer, it seemed like the talk was that Cal Foote could join that club.
Last season, his first in the pros, he exceeded some pretty high expectations. As you can see he was ranked fourth overall based on just his performance with the Kelowna Rockets. Within a month or two with the Crunch he was one of their top defenders and seeing the occasional shift as part of the top pairing.
So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that with an extremely strong training camp he still might find a spot on the Lightning’s roster, but the summer signings of Luke Schenn and Kevin Shattnenkirk have dimmed that possibility a bit. After all, if Foote is to make the team, it’s not going to be to play for eight minutes one night and sit in the press box the next. That does him no good.
The best thing for his development right now is getting the reps. He needs to be on the ice playing against against solid competition. A season in the highly competitive AHL North is probably the best place for him in 2019-20
In all likelihood, he is destined to make the trip north to Syracuse for another few months of seasoning. He’ll be penciled in for a top pairing with Cameron Gaunce and find himself playing 20-23 minutes a night against some tough competition. He’ll be on the ice for all three aspects of the game - even strength, power play, and penalty kill.
With a solid defensive unit in Tampa right now, there is no reason to rush Foote along. Giving him time to develop his game with Syracuse will benefit the Crunch now and Foote in the future. As well as he played last season, there are still some aspects that he needs to work on, namely his skating. He can get by right now with average skating, but it would be open to exploitation at the NHL level.
One reason it’s not too noticeable at the AHL level is that Foote reads plays at an exceptional level. More times than not he puts himself in the right spot to defend rushes and reads plays correctly as they develop in the defensive zone.
He uses his brain more than his brawn on the ice. Despite being listed at 6’4”, 220 lbs. he doesn’t play a physical game like his father, Adam, did. He will lean on a player or two in front of the net from time to time to try and clear the crease, but he’s more likely to out position his opponent. The physical part of the game may develop as he becomes more confident in his own game, but even if it never emerges he can still be successful in the NHL. After all, Victor Hedman didn’t win a Norris by bludgeoning his opponents up and down the ice.
While Foote is never going to generate offense by gliding down the ice like his future Swedish teammate, he can get the puck going in the right direction with smart breakout passes. More times than not, he made the right read (which stood out on a team that had more than its fair share of blind passes up the ice).
There isn’t anything super flashy about his game, he just does everything really, really well. If anything stood out during his rookie season, it was his poise. There was a play early in the season where he had the puck behind his own net. Two opponents were converging on him. Instead of banging the puck off the glass blindly, he made a subtle little pass off the dashers, stepped around one of the forecheckers, collected the puck, and skated away from the pressure.
It was an instinctual play, the type of play that good players make without thinking that sets them apart from average players. Making a play like that so early in his career bodes well for his development as a top pairing defenseman.
In the offensive zone, he is more than willing to let the puck go (he led all Crunch blueliners with 118 shots last season) which helps him create space to move the puck around to his forwards. There is nothing overwhelming about his shot, but he locates it well and does a good job of getting it on net.
Much like in the defensive zone, he puts himself in the right spot to be effective on offense.
As you can see on the clip above, he drifted into a soft spot off the rush and didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger once the puck came his way. The goal is indicative of his offensive game. He has a quick, accurate shot. It isn’t going to set any speed records, but it will most likely get on net.
Towards the end of last season, with Gaunce and Jan Rutta in Tampa, Foote did run point on the first power play unit and looked comfortable doing so. Most likely he’ll quarterback the second unit as long as Gaunce is on the roster (Coach Groulx does enjoy his four-forward units). Three of his ten goals last season were on the power play and it wouldn’t be surprising to see similar numbers this season.
While he will likely start the season in Syracuse, if he continues his strong play, he could pull off a move similar to Erik Cernak’s last season. Should injuries strike down a Lightning blueliner at some point in the season and a long term replacement is needed, Foote could be that fix.